Strike Fleet is a naval combat simulation developed by Lucasfilm Games and first published by Electronic Arts in 1988. It is the unofficial sequel to the game P.H.M. Pegasus* and it received rave reviews at the time of its original release. * = You can even take control of a Pegasus class craft if you want, which is a classy nod to the game’s predecessor.
The player controls either an American or British fleet over the course of ten scenarios, of which the last four can be played as a single campaign. The player must fight against the navy and air force of various other nations including Argentina, the Soviet Union, and Iran.
Strike Fleet is known for its historical accuracy, high quality graphics and depth, and was very highly rated back in 1988. Zzap!64 magazine famously gave Strike Fleet a review score of 96% in their April 1988 issue (issue 36).
You begin the game on the scenario menu screen, where you can cycle through which to play and read a brief explanation of what each mission entails, then you move to the naval base, where you can view your task force before setting sail. If you’re playing a campaign you can fully customise the setup of your fleet. Once you’ve set off you must then use the map view to set a destination and complete your objectives.
If you have multiple ships in your fleet the other vessels will follow your flagship, unless you send them off in separate directions. You can split your task force up if you need to, and you can also re-join them by choosing the appropriate commands from the ‘orders’ menu. You can also set your alert level and whether your radar and sonar are set to either passive or active. Radar is used for for detecting surface vessels and sonar for hunting submarines. Depending on your mission you need to set these correctly. You should also set the range of your scanning. If you’re patrolling, and searching for enemy ships for example, then you need to extend the range of your radar, and maybe even send out reconnaissance helicopters. When enemy contact has been made you then need to go into combat mode to deal with them.
Your ships have a variety of weapons which can be selected from the ordnance menu. Missiles are good for taking out enemy ships at a distance (although they can be dodged); cannons are useful for that too, and fire more rapidly; torpedoes are used for attacking submarines; AA missiles are for taking down enemy aircraft, and so on.
At any point during the game you can switch the view between your ships, and even to your helicopters. Pressing ‘C’ will change bridge, and cycle through your vehicles. Pressing Shift+C will cycle through them in the opposite direction. In fact: this is an important feature of Strike Fleet that you need to learn quickly: cycling through any list in the game – be it your ships, or your radar range, or your targets – can be done in two directions: backwards and forwards. Pressing ‘T’ will target the nearest ship to you, and pressing ‘T’ again will jump forward to the next ship on the list. Pressing Shift+T will cycle backwards through your targets. Understanding how this works will save you valuable time during combat. Another area of the game where this feature is useful (even vital) is when sending out helicopters. During a mission you can press ‘H’ to launch a helicopter, and press Shift+H to return them to your ship (although you must be in the cockpit of a helicopter to do that). You can even manually control helicopters, which is neat (you couldn’t do that in P.H.M. Pegasus).
Manually controlling helicopters and other vehicles means either having to use a second joystick, or the keyboard, because the first joystick controls the selection cursor on the display panel. This means that it’s possible to become confused if you’re using the wrong joystick. Especially if you played Strike Fleet‘s predecessor (P.H.M. Pegasus) beforehand, which I did, and which is much easier to control.
As seen in P.H.M. Pegasus, Strike Fleet also has a time compression feature that is essential to understand. Pressing Shift and plus or minus will increase or decrease time. If the on-screen time indicator shows a ‘1’, then that means that time is 1:1 and therefore things are going to run slowly, in real time. By compressing time you can increase the speed of the game up to 128 times faster, which decreases the time it takes to travel long distances. If you encounter enemy ships and they fire at you then the time compression will drop to eight times speed so that you’re not destroyed in the blink of an eye and left wondering what happened. The time compression can also be used to speed up combat to give yourself more of a challenge, if you want that. If you don’t then you simply drop the time compression to one or two and fight the slow way. Strike Fleet also has day and night cycles and time compression can speed these up too. The only thing missing, really, are sunsets and sunrises, but then I guess you can’t have everything…
One small problem I discovered while playing Strike Fleet: the text in the game has issues because an ‘o’ and an ‘a’ look almost identical, so the word “boat” looks like “boot” (das boot?) and the word “patrol” looks like “potrol“, and other words do read strangely because of the lack of font fidelity. It might have been better to use all caps. I dunno. You just have to get used to it, but it’s a minor issue.
Overall, though, Strike Fleet is a complex and involving game with plenty of variety and depth. Once you’ve gotten used to the control system and figured out what to do then you’ll find the game relatively easy to play (reading the manual and Quick reference Guide helps). As tactical 8-bit naval warfare games go: there are few better than Strike Fleet (except for maybe Carrier Command).